The course Managing for Excellence which I attended at BI Business School in Oslo was about how to empower employees and create work environments wherein employees can feel safe, be creative and productive. The course required us to write a paper about a topic we had learned in the course and combine it with an external source. I and two other group members choose to write about trust, prepping and The Wolf of Wall Street. I have written the literature review myself and helped the team with writing the other parts.
That your Jag in the lot?
Nice ride. Donnie Azoff.
I’ve seen it around. We live in
the same building. Twelfth floor?
What do you do, bro?
Kids furniture, me and my brother in-
law. Making any money?
Seventy grand last month.
Get the fuck out. You made
seventy grand in one month.
Donnie studies him, isn’t sure if he’s full of shit.
(Wolf of Wall Street, Script by Terence Winter, 2013. Movie based on the memoir book of Jordan Belfort, Directed by Martin Scorsese)
In this paper, we compare our internal, real life, experiences with a movie as an external case: “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Martin Scorsese. This movie has been chosen because exuberant characters and situations allow for generative practices, or lack of them, to stand out. Our aim is to highlight the importance of trust as a crucial aspect in Managing for Excellence which helps to better understand the generative practices prepping (Carlsen, Clegg & Giersvik, 2012), good deeds, Reflected Best-Self (Roberts, Dutton, Spreitzer, Heaphy, & Quinn, 2005) and High Quality Connections (Dutton, 2003). We chose these practices since they have according to us a great impact on us and other individuals and they help us to create better workplaces in the future. Furthermore, we want to reflect these practices with our own experiences and contrast trust and prepping practices with the external case. It is paramount for us, as future leaders to understand the abovementioned concepts in order to contribute to making organizations excellent places to work in. Therefore, the research question of this paper is the following: “To what extend are trust and prepping paramount for achieving Managing for Excellence?”
The human brain has been scientifically a great mystery and thanks to recent technological innovations, there has been great progression into unravelling those secrets. One cognitive feat of the brain is the recognition of faces in just a fraction of a second for trustworthiness (Fiske, Cuddy & Glick, 2006). From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense, since another person’s intent for good or ill is paramount for one’s survival (Fiske et al., 2006). In addition, according to Butler (1991) “(1) trust is an important aspect of interpersonal relationships, (2) trust is essential to the development of managerial careers, and (3) trust in a specific person is more relevant in terms of predicting outcomes than is the global attitude of trust in generalized others” (p. 647). Thus, trust is an essential concept for Managing for Excellence and generative practices since it helps to “grease the engine”; it makes it work smoothly.
Trust is an essential concept that individuals understand intuitively, know that it is important but find it hard to conceptualize. Husted (1989) argued this “the definition of trust is problematic because there is such a wide variety of approaches to the concept” (p. 23). Ring and Van de Ven (1992, p.488) termed trust a mixture of two aspects: “(1) confidence or predictability in one’s expectations (Zucker, 1986) and (2) confidence in the other’s goodwill (Friedman, 1991)”. Aidan Ward and John Smith (2004) propose that “to trust is to rely on someone or something to take care of our interests” (p.8). Trust in someone allows us to extend our awareness to things that person can see that we cannot. This bond is an emotional and a cerebral connection which often presents itself during hard times, stressful times, miscommunication or inadequately understood actions. Trust gives individuals faith in facing challenges together and the hope to achieve a positive outcome (Lyman, 2011). Furthermore, trust-based relationships are enjoyable, bring comfort, stability, providing support to the relationship and increased sense of security and belonging (Lyman, 2011). It is therefore not surprising to observe the need for trust between individuals when there is so much to gain from trust.
The practice of prepping has a relation with the abovementioned confidence in one’s expectations. Prepping is “the practice of carefully preparing, building and revitalizing knowledge in a way that maximizes its potential for effective use in the moment of creation” (Carlsen et al., 2012, p. 46). When one is better prepared, one will have a better idea of what to expect from oneself but also from the other party. Prepping is for achieving better quality ideas; since one has to delve into the background knowledge and prepare input facts and opinions for the purpose of combining them to generate valuable new ideas (Carlsen et al., 2012). When an individual is known to take prepping serious, the trust as Butler (1991) pointed out for predicting outcomes, will be relevant and there will be an increase in the trust that this individual is competent. In a way this is the hallmark of an uncle Sam in the organization, these trusted individuals have great knowledge and take prepping serious because they have the experience of being unprepared when it mattered (Carlsen et al., 2012). For the successful achievement of the generative practices in the course we all had to make use of prepping; read our notes, look back at the lecture slides, read the relevant book chapters, talk with other students to come up with an idea which would bring us closer to success. This all is part of prepping and one student is closer to the qualities of an uncle Sam than another.
The generative practices consisted not only out of prepping but it furthermore consisted of “High Quality Connections” (Dutton, 2003). High Quality Connections (HQC) workplaces are characterized by individuals who have mutual positive regard, trust each other and engage actively with each other (Dutton, 2003). Supportive communication is key, instead of criticism one has to give constructive feedback for the creation of deeper trust. With more trust in organizations there will be higher coping, greater resilience when it deviates from the planned path, more creativity by broadening of the thought-action repertoire (Fredrickson, 1998) and even the possibility of high peak moments (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). When there is high level of psychological safety in the organization, one can be authentic and it will lead to more learning from failures (Carmeli, Brueller, & Dutton, 2009; Carmeli & Gittell, 2009). Finally, greater levels of interpersonal trust will increase the cooperation and trustworthiness between co-workers (Ferrin, Bligh, & Kohles, 2008). Thus, HQC has great value for creating and maintaining trust in organizations. However, HQC is not reserved for only to be deployed at the workplace but in any interaction between individuals. We have seen this in the exercise we had to undertake and have experienced first-hand what the effect of the five respectful engagement forms are (Dutton, 2003). When one uses these five forms one can expect high engagement and on an emotional level it feels different than what a typical student interaction goes; it creates deeper connection and trust.
The deep trust that one builds with friends, colleagues and family members shows itself with the help of tools from Managing for Excellence, for instance in the form of the Reflected Best-Self (RBS) responses we had in the exercise (Roberts et al., 2005). If the relationship lacks authenticity and mutuality, then lack of trust and cynicism will lead individuals to discount the positive feedback and see it as insincere, inaccurate, or irrelevant to their identity (Roberts et al., 2005). Individuals are more sensitive to negative information than positive since the former has a stronger impact on psychological functioning (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001).
Finally, the good deed exercise was interesting in the way that it made us more conscious about contributing to others. According to Tony Robbins’ six human needs is a life of fulfilment one that makes you grow and contribute: “ultimately it’s not what you get that will make you happy long term, but rather who you become and what you contribute will” (Robbins, 2014). This giving attitude is in line with what Adam Grant has been writing about in his book Give and Take (2013). It takes time for givers to build trust, but sooner or later they will have a reputation and relationship that embellishes their success. Takers on the other hand are the ones we withhold our trust to avoid being exploited (Grant, 2013). It is interesting that the strong ties we have in our network, which we have high trusted connection with, are helping us less (17%) than weak ties (28%) in our network to get a new job (Granovetter, 1973). It is tougher to ask our weak ties for help since we do not have high mutual trust established, but nonetheless, we do have trust dormant between them. Thus, it makes sense to be conscious to contribute and do good deeds with the result of building trust between weak ties in a network to harvest in a time of need.
For this paper both theoretical and practical research have been applied. Theoretical research consists of collecting existing information from available secondary data resources, such as scientifically published papers and books. Practical research in this regard is seen as the movie. We choose the movie The Wolf of Wall Street for its over the top characters and workplace setting. It is a movie wherein trust is crucial for the success of Jordan Belfort but so is prepping and the other generative practices; since they help with becoming successful.
Welcome to Wall Street
Jordan Belfort first job as a broker started at INT. L.F. ROTHSCHILD and this place is not your typical good workplace — it is Wall Street. He gets yelled at from the start by his manager and gets to meet the senior broker, the boss of his manager. Mark Hanna is going to tell and prep Jordan for how the game of brokerage is being played when they have lunch together (Wolf of Wall Street, script page 10):
(reciting an ad)
“Here at L.F. Rothschild, our
clients aren’t just important,
they’re family.” Just as long as
we get our taste first. Remember
something, Jordan, your top
priority in this job: make us
money. If the clients get rich
along the way, bully for them.
This example shows how one who is new to the firm can be influenced easily by a leadership figure. Mark Hanna prepares Jordan by telling that it is okay to use drugs to relax and lie to clients to keep them in the game. It is all about making money in the financial sector. Since Mark has become a senior broker by this behavior, Jordan thinks not wrong and learns to incorporate this behavior himself. For instance, the song ritual he teaches to Jordan will be preserved and used as a hallmark in his company a few years later, this shows the impact of a leader. Mark is furthermore a real influencer; the way he connects with Jordan shows active and respectful engagement and an individual with charisma.
In a way I was also prepping my team member when I was sharing funny moments, instead of drugs, when I wanted the team to relax and get the tension out of the air. I needed everyone to come up with ideas how we would get the project in New Venture Creation moving forward and showed by example how we should interact with each other and what the atmosphere of the team should be. It is important similarly to the abovementioned clip that as a leader figure to set the stage for the working environment and prepare colleagues to show a particular work behavior if you want to succeed in the goals which are set. It is not only up to a leader to engage actively and respectfully with others, but anyone can and should do this.
Unplug to connect
Nowadays, it is growingly striking that people are losing quality in their interactions. They actually do not connect in person as much as before, with respect to the definition of HQC implying respectful engagement, effective listening and genuinely among other things (Jane E. Dutton,2003). One important reason for this phenomenon, especially among youngsters, is that due to technological adoption and new ways of communication, people have a lower attention span. Often, we are connected twenty-four hours a day, and information is received instantaneously, as fast as interactions can occur online through several platforms. However, as we tried to create HQCs for the course assignment, we have seen that people still respond positively to true engagement towards them. Indeed, I experimented the construction of such HQC when I invited a friend over to have a coffee, during which we respectfully talked and listened attentively. I think it is important to highlight that none of us used our cell phone during the interaction, making the over-connectivity I believe we suffer from disappear. I also realized that this type of moment had not happened to me in a very long time, which made me aware of how people are actually disconnected from each other nowadays, and by people, I mean the majority of youngsters. For the next four months after this experience, I did not experience a similar moment.
If people still react positively to the effort of connecting and creating something out of this connection between two individuals, I am convinced that this should be true within organizations. They lack a lot, in France nevertheless, of authenticity, meaning and attention from the participating counterparts. Why could it not be possible? I actually see no reason for that. Relatively to this organizational reality, I have to admit that if something does work in organizations, it is to have fun and share laughter, as it occurred for me when I tried the experience with one of my friend at home. Building HQC is feasible and we should try to spread them around us, including at work. According to Fineman (2000), organizations are “emotional arenas”, which means people not only should, but must be receptive to them. Professional life is part of our life, and therefore emotions have their righteous place in it.
Prepping yourself to act altruistically at work
An interesting side of the HQC can be found in their origins. Actually, throughout the good deeds experiment results that I observed, people react sensitively to actions, and even more when those are directed to their well-being and comfort, under the form of help or attention (such as helping to enhance their comfort in their room, helping them sorting out a problem, making them feel something pleasant through cooking food for them). We could say that doing good deeds is closely intertwined with HQC and one triggers the other since both of them have trust as an underlying aspect. It can become a habit which enhances the relationship for the people involved. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the power of meaningful actions and help, as well as common engagement is finely depicted and can even be considered as the ground for Stratton Oakmont’s success. Jordan Belfort gives an opportunity to his employees regardless of their background, education and social status, which therefore results in a tremendous reaction from them towards him, which is total loyalty, high trust and engagement. Even though cinematographic needs emphasize their response to their leader’s words, the speech scene of Jordan speaking before the IPO shows how connections were different from anything anyone had ever seen:
“Before Jordan is even finished, the Brokers GO BERSERK (an ancient Scandinavian warrior held to be invulnerable, used in the meaning of “go wild”), some already dialing their phones”. (Wolf of Wall Street, Script p. 70)
I believe that taking out the mad aspects of the interaction, we could actually build the same type of boundaries within companies, by enhancing morality and encouraging people to actually do good, help, and be altruistic towards their colleagues, which would result in huge mutual benefits and trust (efficiency, moral health, commitment). But how can we use prepping to make people receptive to those facts and sensitive to HQC in already well-established models? How can we make trust a common rule linking people together? Prepping yourself and making the effort to effectively make work incivilities vanish (Dutton, 2003), or express gratitude as in your social life (Grant & Gino, 2010) can make a huge difference in the mindsets of your colleagues.
Leadership figure, vehicle and limit to change
The limitation of the answer to the abovementioned questions resides in the power of the manager and the leading authority. Management models have changed in the way they are taught in school, but are considerably slower to evolve within corporations because of the hierarchy chain’s inertia. Who would preach and move forward to its manager and even director, without fearing further retaliation and misinterpretation? Unfortunately, only someone that can fully trust its manager, and therefore share his ideas with this important figure. I am not saying that such willpower does not exist today (the Southwest Airlines case showed us that it did and worked), but it is still very limited by reluctance to change old habits. Here again, Jordan Belfort is the perfect incarnation of the managerial power when it comes to company culture and relational excellence. The CEO of Stratton Oakmont is everything for the company and its employees, he has such charisma and goes tremendously beyond simple relations that this is why people there did not fear being who they truly were, and strongly connecting. An excellent illustration of this societal and professional inertia, is the name given by the journalist to Jordan Belfort which is the name of the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”. For doing things differently and breaking existing models, he was depicted as a “twisted Robin Hood” and despised by many. Imagine such things would happen to a fresh and new employee willing to change the way his team has been working for twenty years? He would risk putting his job in jeopardy.
However, what if we could trust each other? Working areas should make it possible to share not only professional and generic interactions, but also experiment interpersonal processes such as compassion (Dutton et al., 2014) which would have a tremendous power in terms of going beyond strict hierarchical relations, but we know that this is seldom the case. Moreover, we can therefore refer to the lack of compassion and respect from the management team of Stratton Oakmont, when it comes to personal matters (scenes of the Steve Madden IPO Day and scene when Donnie swallows the goldfish of an employee). In this particular scene, we can in the meantime see that employees completely follow their leaders and do not show any compassion either, underlining here again the strength of the managing figure.
Prepping for your best-self: trusting your abilities
We believe our personality and daily actions shape our future paths. We decided to apply the concept of prepping to a broader context, the one of preparing our individual mindsets for success through positive and self-determination behaviors in our daily life. As a result, this will impact the organizations in which we work or the one we lead.
One of the recurrent sayings from the reflected best-self exercise was that I really enjoy helping and pleasing others. Relatives mentioned my dedication and engagement when I tutored students for school or university. They noticed that I truly wanted them to succeed. One student told me she now enjoys mathematics thanks to our tutoring sessions together. Indeed, I try to spread positivity. I enjoy looking up for inspiration and try to, in turn, inspire people around me. I enjoy empowering people so that they can become the best version of themselves. My friend Caroline mentioned the latter in the RBS portrait exercise: “Lea has the capacity to make people feel more confident and therefore more effective”.
Similarly, the character of Jordan Belfort, believed in his employees even if they had little to no experience. By showing them his trust in themselves and the way they should work, people believed they could achieve it. Indeed, unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties (Bandura, 2007). Jason would first show how it is done on the phone, which would help them understand and prep them how they can be successful — now all the brokers listen in rapt attention (scene where he sells a huge amount of penny stock). He would also motivate them with regular speeches — let the consequences of failure become so fucking unthinkable that you’ll have no choice but to do whatever it takes to win! (Jordan Belfort talking, Wolf of Wall Street, script page 69). Nevertheless, whatever other factors serve as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to affect changes by one’s actions (Bandura, 2007).
Moreover, contexts supportive of autonomy and competence were found to foster greater internalization and integration. This is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high-quality performance (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Indeed, Jordan Belfort’s character showed them the way or even wrote precise scripts to help them achieving their goal. Once they were more comfortable on the phone, the only guideline left was to never take no for an answer — and in the case of the telephone, it’s the action of you, a highly trained Strattonite, a killer who will not take no for an answer! A person who will not hang up the phone until his client either buys or fucking dies! (Jordan Belfort talking, Wolf of Wall Street, script page 68).
In that sense it relates to “fake it until you become it” (Cuddy, 2012), spreading the idea that you can change your life. – They were absolute morons, my friends, but like I always said: Give me them young, hungry and stupid and in no time I’ll make them rich. — (Jordan Belfort thoughts, Wolf of Wall Street, script page 20). Likewise, in my personal experience, I never gave up from my college education although I faced numerous failures — “As she was determined, she never gave up and always tried to learn from her failures” (My mother’s second story from the RBS portrait) — and at the time, nobody believed I could achieve it.
Personally, I want to make a difference, I believe that even small deeds have an impact. Details matter a lot to me, I always pick on them, indeed, this was also mentioned in the RBS portrait stories. My friend Aida wrote that: “She is so thoughtful in every little act, to make sure the other person will feel special”. Comparably, Jordan Belfort’s character was not only determined to become rich himself but also to help others make it.
— In the crowd he finds KIMMIE BELZER, 30s.
Everybody here knows Kimmie Belzer, right?
Hoots and hollers… He raises his hand for quiet.
In case any of you weren’t aware
of it, Kimmie was one of
Stratton’s first brokers, one of
the original twenty. Now when
most of you met Kimmie, you met
her the way she is today — a
beautiful woman who drives a brand
new Mercedes, a woman who lives in
the finest condo complex on Long
Island. A woman who wears $3000
Armani suits, who spends her
winters in the Bahamas and her
summers in the Hamptons!
But that’s not the Kimmie I met.
The Kimmie I met was broke, a
single mom on the balls of her
ass. Three months behind on her
rent with an eight-year-old son!
She came to me for a job and when
I hired her she asked for a $5000
dollar advance so she could pay
his tuition. And what did I do,
You wrote me a check for $25,000!
Because I believed in you, like
I believe in each and every one
of you! — (Wolf of Wall street, script page 107)
“Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why” (Zander & Zander 2000, p.59), the action you take for someone might be a drop in the ocean but it definitely matters to that person, this is our aim as contributors (Zander & Zander, 2000). Although Jordan Belfort broke the law many times, for his employees he has been a contribution, at least in some way or another. He never lost sight of his goals and ambitions, even after the Wall Street crash, he decided to follow his career and start again, from the bottom, selling penny stocks — In a suit, Jordan emerges from a ‘85 Datsun. He looks around confused, heads toward an unmarked storefront. The antithesis of L.F. Rothschild (where he worked before on Wall Street), with cheap furniture and a dozen misfit “BROKERS” giving loud, obnoxious sales pitches. — (The Wolf of Wall Street, script page 27).
When well prepared and self-determined it is easier to grab the opportunity that comes knocking. In the end, you make the decisions that design your own life. Individuals’ self-constructions guide their future actions through intrapsychic and social processes (Fiske & Taylor, 1984; Gioia & Poole, 1984). Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Similar research literature in the field showed that social skills in the labor market are increasingly important (Deming, 2016).
We ended the introduction of this paper with the research question: “To what extend is trust and prepping paramount for achieving Managing for Excellence?” One can conclude that trust is a crucial concept which can be found in all aspects of Managing for Excellence; it comes down to interpersonal relationships or preparing to achieve something significant and challenging. Prepping for instance is the act of preparing oneself for creation of qualitative ideas, which can be found in the competency of trust.
It is not surprising how Jordan Belfort behaved in the movie, since he got prepped for it in his first job. Mark Hanna had a great influence on him and prepped him for the bad behavior we see in the movie, i.e. cursing at each other, this totally does not fit the theory if one wants to create an HQC workplace. Though he did manage to create loyal employees in his future company, was this because it was all based on fear? Were the employees staying for the high salary they got and just accepted the stressful work environment?
He illustrated his lack of morality at his second job, using the techniques and mindset he learned on Wall Street during his first job. What is surprising is the fact that Jordan Belfort learned how to mislead clients and show ethically questionable behavior and none of his friends really stood up to him, the only person to do so was his first wife. She expressed that it is not fair to sell pink sheets to broke people and that he should sell them to rich people who can afford to lose money instead. When you think about it, someone was showing him the right path… He furthermore, accepts that Donny insults a co-worker and even swallows his goldfish in front of all his co-workers. This is not the way a leader would behave according to Dutton (2003). An environment of fear was created and trusting yourself is the only way to survive in this “wolf-eats-wolf” environment (intended pun).
Although Jordan Belfort was a contribution (Zander & Zander, 2000) to his employees by trusting them and helping them to achieve their life changing goals, we saw that he was an all-mighty leader. His employees followed him without questioning his behavior despite its exuberant nature. We identified the latter as a barrier to implement Managing for Excellence generative practices at work. Indeed, the leader has a crucial part to play in fostering trust and self-efficacy beliefs through new practices at the workplace.
Furthermore, self-determination and trust in one’s capabilities (Ryan & Deci, 2000) were highlighted in both internal and external cases as key success factors. Throughout the movie, Jordan Belfort showed that himself and his employees had the power to change their life through their actions, illustrating Bandura’s (2007) findings.
In addition, the movie shed light on numerous trust issues, which in turn, makes us wonder about the characters’ morality. Was he a real giver (Grant, 2013)? Or was he solely taking advantage of both client’s naivety and employees despair to enrich themselves?
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